A cultural and literary history of impairment in the coal industry, 1880–1948

Coalmining was a notoriously dangerous industry and many of its workers experienced injury and disease. However, the experiences of the many disabled people within Britain’s most dangerous industry have gone largely unrecognised by historians. This book examines the British coal industry through the lens of disability, using an interdisciplinary approach to examine the lives of disabled miners and their families.

The book considers the coal industry at a time when it was one of Britain’s most important industries, and follows it through a period of growth up to the First World War, through strikes, depression and wartime, and into an era of decline. During this time, the statutory provision for disabled people changed considerably, most notably with the first programme of state compensation for workplace injury. And yet disabled people remained a constant presence in the industry as many disabled miners continued their jobs or took up ‘light work’. The burgeoning coalfields literature used images of disability on a frequent basis and disabled characters were used to represent the human toll of the industry.

A diverse range of sources are used to examine the economic, social, political and cultural impact of disability in the coal industry, looking beyond formal coal company and union records to include autobiographies, novels and oral testimony. It argues that, far from being excluded entirely from British industry, disability and disabled people were central to its development. The book will appeal to students and academics interested in disability history, disability studies, social and cultural history, and representations of disability in literature.

1 WORK, ECONOMY AND DISABILITY IN THE BRITISH COALFIELDS The period from 1880 to 1948 witnessed considerable economic, industrial and political change, and the coal industry was situated right at heart of the various transformations that took place. At the start of this period, the economy had experienced a number of decades of growth and Britain’s worldwide economic and imperial pre-eminence was undoubted. By the end of the period, in contrast, Britain had experienced two periods of total war and a prolonged period of economic depression, and had fallen behind

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process, it re-evaluates the relationship between ‘disability’ and work in industrialising Britain and suggests that popular ideas about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on disabled people’s lives that emphasise their exclusion from work need re-thinking.2 The nature and conditions of mine work Mineworkers’ experiences in the coal industry were shaped by the differing economic trajectories and geologies of the specific coalfields in which they worked, as well as the significant cultural differences between them. The most glaring of these, particularly in the

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give attention to their agency and the extent to which they were able to bring their influence to bear on these political and industrial matters. Industrial relations, coal-mining and disability The politics of disability in mining communities and within the industry as a whole occurred within a distinctive context, and some understanding of the 180 DIS ABILITY IN INDU S TRIAL BRITAIN broader aspects of industrial relations in the coal industry is first necessary. In a British context, the industry was arguably characterised by some of the stormiest and bitterest

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social reformers which revealed the ways in which the health and occupational illnesses of colliers compared with those working in other sectors of the industrial economy. This work drew attention to the manifold causes of illness and incapacity in mine work beyond the accidents that prompted government inspection, suggesting a much wider experience of disablement in the coal industry. This chapter charts and explains this growing interest in the bodies of mineworkers, placing it in the context of broader campaigns for public health and industrial reform. Focusing in

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Physical impairment in British coalmining, 1780–1880

This book sheds new light on the human cost of industrialisation by examining the lives and experiences of those disabled in an industry that was vital to Britain's economic growth. If disability has been largely absent from conventional histories of industrialisation, the Industrial Revolution has assumed great significance in disability studies. The book examines the economic and welfare responses to disease, injury and impairment among coal workers. It discusses experiences of disability within the context of social relations and the industrial politics of coalfield communities. The book provides the context for those that follow by providing an overview of the conditions of work in British coalmining between 1780 and 1880. It turns its attention to the principal causes of disablement in the nineteenth-century coal industry and the medical responses to them. The book then extends the discussion of responses to disability by examining the welfare provisions for miners with long-term restrictive health conditions. It also examines how miners and their families negotiated a 'mixed economy' of welfare, comprising family and community support, the Poor Law, and voluntary self-help as well as employer paternalism. The book shifts attention away from medicine and welfare towards the ways in which disability affected social relations within coalfield communities. Finally, it explores the place of disability in industrial politics and how fluctuating industrial relations affected the experiences of disabled people in the coalfields.

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Conclusion The coal industry has a central place in the economic, political and industrial relations history of modern Britain. No industry compares with its fundamental role in providing so much employment, generating as much economic activity and giving rise to trade unions and a powerful Labour Party that were to play such significant roles in British politics and the evolution of the British state. Another important characteristic of the coal industry now needs to be recognised: it is clearly crucial to the modern history of disability in Britain. No other

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workplace to men, women and children with impairments? And what does a study of the Industrial Revolution that foregrounds the experience of disabled people contribute to our understanding of work and its politics in the past? This book attempts to answer these questions by examining perceptions and experiences of disability within the context of the British coal industry and Britons’ responses to people in mining areas who today might be labelled ‘disabled’. Coal provides a compelling case study for exploring occupational impairment in industrialising Britain. Coal was

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, however, Eaves’ case is rather mundane. These kinds of accidents and injuries were daily occurrences in the British coal industry, while the contestation of compensation cases in the courts was similarly an everyday reality in mining communities. The everyday and mundane nature of the case, however, is precisely the point, and it illustrates many of the major themes of this study of disability in industrial Britain. In the first place, Eaves’ case highlights the centrality of the compensation system to the understandings and experiences of disability in coalfield

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economically unproductive ‘burdens’, whose inability to conform to more stringent productivity demands, work or time discipline meant that they could no longer compete in the workplace. Yet the coal industry during its period of rapid expansion between 1780 and 1880 presents a more complicated picture. On the one hand, the idea that coalminers were a ‘picked’ body of workers probably meant that people Conclusion 201 with certain congenital impairments or ‘weak’ constitutions had long been excluded from mine work, although such exclusion was never universal. On the

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